I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
In 1970 a child with skinny legs and muddy skin was introduced into African American autobiography. Born Marguerite Johnson, she became known as Maya Angelou, an actress and dancer who performed in George Gershwin musical, Porgy and Bess, and in Jean Genet satirical French play, The Blacks; who, two years before, in 1968, wrote a series on African heritage for educational television. Angelou, well known as an entertainer, was urged by James Baldwin and by the cartoonist Jules Feiffer and his wife Judy to try her hand at writing an autobiography. After several refusals she agreed; the result was a unique series of autobiographical narratives.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first of Maya Angelou's five autobiographies. It covers her life from the age of three, when her parents send her and her brother Bailey to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas, until the age of sixteen, when she becomes a mother. Annie Henderson is the main influence on her childhood.
When Maya and Bailey are eight and nine, respectively, they travel to St. Louis, where their mother, Vivian Baxter, and their maternal grandmother are leading a far more sophisticated life than anything Maya had known in Arkansas. There are more parties and fewer church gatherings. In the loose atmosphere of St. Louis, Maya is raped by her mother's boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, who warns her to be silent (mute) or he will
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Publication information: Book title: Maya Angelou:A Critical Companion. Contributors: Mary Jane Lupton - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 51.